Magic Leap CEO remains cryptic in Reddit AMA

Augmented reality startup Magic Leap has been maddeningly mum since it leapt into the public eye with nearly $600 million in funding last year. Only a handful of journalists and investors have tried it.

CEO Rony Abovitz took to Reddit for an AMA today, a rare interaction with the public and all-to-familiar demonstration of the company’s ability to dodge real questions. He acknowledged Magic Leap is working on obvious augmented reality (AR) challenges without revealing any more technical details. He also said the company has a launch date target and will publicly talk about selling it commercially “at some point in the near future,” but gave no specific date.

However, he did reveal a few interesting tidbits about his personal interests and what he believes sets Magic Leap apart. Here are the highlights:

Abovitz thinks other tech is damaging your eyes and brain

In the most interesting — and strange — post in the AMA, Abovitz charged that rival augmented reality headsets cause temporary or permanent neurological problems. What?

According to Abovitz:

Our philosophy as a company (and my personal view) is to “leave no footprints” in the brain. The brain is very neuroplastic – and there is no doubt that near-eye stereoscopic 3d systems have the potential to cause neurologic change.

There is a history (for optics geeks) of issues that near-eye stereoscopic 3d may cause – but this has always been very limited use and small populations (like the military). We have done an internal hazard and risk analysis (like the kind I did from my med-tech/surgical robotics days) on the spectrum of hazards that may occur to a wide array of users. Frequency of use, duration of use, and the neuroplasticity of the user are all key factors – but because we are all people – we may all be impacted.

I personally experienced a number of these stereoscopic-3d issues – and would not wear these devices -especially knowing that digital light-field systems are on the way and safe.

I haven’t seen any studies that support this. I have experienced AR and VR-induced nausea and eye strain, but those are hardly permanent.

Abovitz is probably saying this because Magic Leap uses a fundamentally different technology than rival AR headsets. It projects light directly into the wearer’s eye that mimics natural light, giving them a visual that appears real (at least, that’s how MIT Technology Review’s recent piece describes it). Other headsets have a lens that hovers in front of each of the wearer’s eyes. Images appear on the lens, which can cause your eye to switch back and forth between different depths to focus, causing strain.

A virtual whale from Magic Leap's website.

A virtual whale from Magic Leap’s website.

Magic Leap wants to replace your mobile device

Abovitz is not the first person to say this, and he won’t be the last: Augmented reality is a platform, not a specialized tool. Magic Leap believes people will eventually want to use its glasses more than current mobile devices. Yes, you’ll look like that dorky guy you saw wearing Google Glass once, and you’ll like it.

“There will be a transition period – some people will wait, others will adopt quickly, while some will use both for a while,” Abovitz wrote.

If Florida worked for NASA, it can work for Magic Leap

Magic Leap is located in Dania Beach, Florida, a city of 30,000 people 45 minutes north of Miami. It’s not the first place you would think to find a booming startup.

Abovitz moved to southern Florida as a child, and said he still loves it today, citing “Disney, NASA and alligators.”

“NASA brought the best and brightest here in the 60s to go to the moon – there is something about being here which gets you to think different and big,” Abovitz wrote in the AMA.

Neal Stephenson is part networker, part UI guy

Magic Leap hired “Snow Crash” author Neal Stephenson late last year as its futurist — a grab that had virtual reality geeks oohing and ahhing.

“I pinch myself everytime I sign off on a Neal Stephenson expense report,” Abovitz wrote. “So mundane and sci-fi at the same moment :)”

Stephenson works with Magic Leap’s team to ensure developer sites are friendly and builds “relationships with people and companies who are living the future we want to build,” Abovitz said.

Magic Leap does not plan to develop for Microsoft

When Microsoft revealed its HoloLens augmented reality headset, team lead Alex Kipman named Magic Leap in his call for HoloLens developers. But Abovitz said he and his team “have our own plans.”

Something about “gold tickets coming”

Is Abovitz secretly Willy Wonka?